A Community Lost

pineflat-school
Pine Flat School, 1960s, Sabine Parish, Louisiana
pineflat
Pine Flat Community being flooded in the 1960s, after the damming of the Sabine River.

When the 186,000 acre Toledo Bend Reservoir was created by damming the Sabine River in the 1960s, a few communities were inundated and forever lost.  I have heard tales of many communities lost in the name of progress as man-made lakes are created for purposes of water-creation, recreational opportunities, tourist attractions and hydro-electricity generation.

One such community that stands out to me is the Pine Flat Community, which was once upon a time a very close-knit community of mostly African Americans situated near the Sabine River in Southwest Sabine Parish, Louisiana.  The population of the Pine Flat community numbered approximately 100 individuals and included about 50 homes.

Some information on Pine Flat was feature in a 2011 article appearing in the archives of Stephen F. Austin University.  Historian Rolonda Teal wrote a bit about the Pine Flat community, along with closely neighboring Barlake and Richard Neck communities.

“Mrs. Alma Cross stated that while growing up in Pine Flat she, ‘didn’t know what black and white was,'” the article reads.  Cross was further quoted,  “We were all just family down there. We ate at the same table, slept in the same beds, and sometimes ate out of the same plate”.

“Pine Flat had distinct communities and surnames associated with them. For example there were the Bar Lake and Richard Neck communities whose surnames included: Gasaway, Grace, Neck, Cross, Sweet, Stallworth, Fobbs, and Hines.”  The article continued, “Although these residents were mostly African American, other cultural groups also lived among them.

“Mrs. Cross described her own ancestry to illustrate the diversity of some bottom land residents. She stated that her Grandmother Lula Fobbs had Blackfoot, Choctaw, African, and Irish ancestry.

“These bottom communities were comprised of people who depended on one another for social and economic support without much regard to ethnic affiliation.”

Ponds and Lakes in the Pine Flat Community area included: Grocer Lake, Ferry Lake, Middle Lake, Spate Lake, Arthur’s Lake, Deer Lake, Tom Self Lake, Matt Fobbs Lake, McCartney Lake, Bar Lake, Green Lake, Oil Well Lake, Willow Pond and Gum Lake.

Churches were St. John’s Church, Macedonia Church, Saint Mary Church and St. James Church.

Here is a link to SFAU’s article

pineflatmap2
Map showing a bit of a rendition of where people lived in the Pine Flat community.

pineflatmappineflat7pineflat6pineflat5pineflat3

Lots for Sale advertisement in the late 1960s, shortly after Toledo Bend Lake was formed.  Lots are near where Pine Flat community once stood
Lots for Sale advertisement in the late 1960s, shortly after Toledo Bend Lake was formed. Lots are near where Pine Flat community once stood
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Peavy Wilson Lumber Company of Peason, Louisiana

Peavy Wilson Lumber Company Commisary that was located at the Peason Mill. It was operated by the company and was open to everyone. (Robertson Collection)
Peavy Wilson Lumber Company Commisary that was located at the Peason Mill. It was operated by the company and was open to everyone. (Robertson Collection)

BY RICKEY ROBERTSON

As we travel around through Natchitoches, Sabine, and Vernon Parishes it is hard to believe the lands in these parishes once were covered with large stands of virgin southern pine timber. The lands of West Central Louisiana had some of the finest of this vast timberland. But up until the very early 1900’s there was one major reason this timber had not been harvested.

The problem was lack of rail transportation to ship and haul both the raw and finished timber products. But around 1897 Kansas City Southern and other rail lines began construction of hundreds and hundreds of miles of railroads through the state. The opening of these railroads in this area brought the lumber companies to Louisiana’s virgin timberlands.

In southeast Sabine Parish in 1916, A.J. Peavy, a logger who had decided to become a lumberman, purchased a tract of land of over 40,000 acres. Mr. Peavy had enough financial backing that he could purchase this land, located in Ward 1, with a large cash payment with the balance to be paid in 88 promissory notes.

Additional lands were also acquired by Mr. Peavy. Knowing the logging industry, but not knowing the mill and lumber business, he partnered with R. J. Wilson who was an experienced mill manager. Peavy Wilson Lumber Company was now formed.

Together, they planned a large town and sawmill to be operated by their company. The site was chosen and in March 1917 the town and mill site was chosen. Thomas Wingate was in charge of the large land clearing and construction operation.

The town needed a name and from the combination of the two owners surnames, PEA from Peavy and SON from Wilson, the sawmill town of PEASON was named.

The town and mill were completed in 1918 and lumbering, logging, and mill operations began. And Peavy Wilson Lumber Company also completed their own rail line known as the Christie and Eastern Railroad. This rail line ran from Sandel, La. on the Kansas City Southern Line out 12 miles to the town and mill at Peason.

Later in the operation of the mill at Peason, this rail line was extended eastward and connected to the Red River and Gulf Line at Kurthwood, La. This old rail line now lies on present day Peason Ridge Military Reservation.

During the run of the Peavy Wilson Lumber Company, the years of full production runs were from 1918 to 1929. The Peason mill was known as the largest pine lumber operation west of the Mississippi River.

The monthly production was about 4 million board feet. During the mill run , there was from 200 to 450 workers with a population in the sawmill town of 1500 to 2000 inhabitants.

One thing that Mr. Peavey and Mr. Wilson were proud of was that during the Great Depression they never laid off any of their workers. Through skillful management practices all the employees were able to make their weekly amount of hours. There were white, black, and Hispanic workers both at the mill and in the log woods. They had many varied jobs from cutting the timber, skidding the logs, mill work, and even building tram roads, and there were many workers who took care of the hundreds of horses, mules, and oxen used by the company in its logging operations. Ancestors of these animals still reside on present day Peason Ridge Military Reservation.

Opportunities during the Depression were scarce but Peavy Wilson Lumber Company were known to take care of their employees and their families.

There was a commissary, drug store, ice house, theater, garage, church, high school, and company doctors who provided medical care to all in Peason. Many people received medical care from Dr. Alford or Dr. Franklin. And they delivered many many babies during the mill run. And Peason was so modern it had electricity, running water, and telephone service, plus company housing for all the workers.

The mill run ended in 1935. Usually when a mill ceased operation it went out of existence. But Peavy Wilson Lumber Company moved the mill from Peason to Holipaw, Florida where it ran until 1947. Many of the workers went to Florida but some of the people remained at Peason and I am the proud ancestor of these loggers and mill workers who so proudly worked for Peavy Wilson Lumber Company.

As you come to Peason on La. Hwy. 118, at the site of the old mill town, stop and visit the Peason Memorial Park. There are 2 historical markers located in the park, one to the sawmill town of Peason and the other to the Peason Ridge Heritage Families, along with 2 photo kiosk’s filled with photographs and memorabilia of the town and mill.

Stop and trace your family tree to the workers and their families who worked and lived at this site. Many memories remain, and for many people, when they hear the words,” Old Peason” and “Peavy Wilson Lumber Company”, it brings back floods of memories of this former booming sawmill town and the lumber company that built it.

Historical marker to the sawmill town of Peason, Louisiana is located at the Peason Memorial Park. The park is located on La. Hwy 118 at the site of the town and mill. (Robertson Collection)
Historical marker to the sawmill town of Peason, Louisiana is located at the Peason Memorial Park. The park is located on La. Hwy 118 at the site of the town and mill. (Robertson Collection)
Historical marker to the Heritage Families of Peason Ridge located in the Peason Memorial Park. (Robertson Collection)
Historical marker to the Heritage Families of Peason Ridge located in the Peason Memorial Park. (Robertson Collection)
Peavy Wilson Lumber Company built Peason High School where all the local children could receive an education. (Robertson Collection)
Peavy Wilson Lumber Company built Peason High School where all the local children could receive an education. (Robertson Collection)
Peavy Wilson Lumber Company mill located at Peason, La. (Robertson Collection)
Peavy Wilson Lumber Company mill located at Peason, La. (Robertson Collection)
The Peason Hotel operated in the mill town of Peason. This hotel had 134 rooms and a large restaurant in it. (Robertson Collection)
The Peason Hotel operated in the mill town of Peason. This hotel had 134 rooms and a large restaurant in it. (Robertson Collection)
Office staff of Peavy Wilson Lumber Company in Peason, La. (Robertson Collection)
Office staff of Peavy Wilson Lumber Company in Peason, La. (Robertson Collection)
The trolley that ran from Peason to Sandel and back each day carried passengers and cargo. Malley Handley was the operator of the trolley. (HPL Collection)
The trolley that ran from Peason to Sandel and back each day carried passengers and cargo. Malley Handley was the operator of the trolley. (HPL Collection)
Photograph of the Peason Mill pond taken in 1919. This large pond is still located at the old mill site. Photo taken in 1919. (HPL Collection)
Photograph of the Peason Mill pond taken in 1919. This large pond is still located at the old mill site. Photo taken in 1919. (HPL Collection)
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Dangerous travel during the Louisiana Maneuvers

Halftracks crossing the Sabine River west of Converse, La. (Robertson Collection)
Halftracks crossing the Sabine River west of Converse, La. (Robertson Collection)

The following article was written by Sabine Parish historian Rickey Robertson, for Stephen F. Austin University.

BY RICKEY ROBERTSON
As the U.S. Army began to hunt for a suitable training area to conduct large scale maneuvers, Lt. Colonel Mark Clark came to Louisiana and found an ideal location. On a Louisiana road map that he picked up at a service station, he mapped off an area that would become known as the Sabine area. On the map he used the Red River as the eastern boundary and the Sabine River as the western boundary. He used Shreveport as the northern boundary and Lake Charles as the southern boundary of the large maneuver area.

This maneuver area was made up of over 3400 square miles making this a massive training area. One thing he noted was the majority of this area was very rural and had a very poor rural network. Both roads and bridges were in very poor condition and most would not hold up under heavy use. This area would have over 470,000 troops and over 60,000 vehicles, from motorcycles, heavy trucks, scout cars, half-tracks, and tanks moving continuously .

With the movement of all these vehicles, all the roads and bridges would be damaged severely. Just weeks before the maneuvers army engineer units began to work on the road and bridge network in an attempt to strengthen them.

On Peason Ridge near the farms of Jim and Coleman Owers army engineers installed culverts and cut ditches for the water to run off. Remains of these old culverts and their concrete abutments are still located in the old roadbed. The engineers even put the numbers of their units and the date of 1941 in the wet concrete.

As the maneuvers began a tropical depression hit Louisiana and the roads became mud bogs. The Yankee soldiers from up north called the thick heavy mud “Louisiana Maple Syrup”. Civilian travel came to a standstill due to the conditions of the roads. The only hard surfaced roads were around the small towns in the area.

U.S. Hwy. 171 was only partially hard surfaced through and around the small towns in the area. As the Battle of Mount Carmel was being fought, only armored and tracked vehicles were able to move. A lady at Peason went into labor and her husband loaded her up in their vehicle and attempted to get to Many, La. to the hospital. They got stuck and they were loaded into the back of a half-track used by medics, and guess what? Between Peason and Mount Carmel she delivered a big bouncing baby boy !

As the armored units and their tanks would advance and retreat, they always were in a hurry. Mrs. Joanne Pickett told me in an interview that her brother, Willard Hopkins, liked to go watch the tanks cross the small bridge over a spring branch near their farm in the Middle Creek Community. All went well till the bridge collapsed under a fast moving tank, with the tank commander being killed in the accident.

And another time the bridge over Lockwood Creek near Many, La. collapsed and a tank fell into the creek with none of the crew being injured. On Sandy Creek between Peason and Kisatchie near the Billy and Houston Dowden homesteads, the army had built a narrow wooden bridge over the creek and during a blackout movement a tank ran off the side of the bridge and fell into the deep creek. 3 tank crewmen were killed in this accident.

Due to the large deep ruts in all the roads, many vehicles actually overturned and had to be up-righted. During a fast movement as heavy trucks retreated from Kurthwood towards Bellwood and Provencal, one large cargo truck slid off the road and ended up overturned on its side. With the enemy moving fast, all the men in the truck could do was cover the truck up with brush and limbs and try to hide it.

They did a good job because the next day they pushed the enemy back southward and there was their truck, still hidden ! They added oil and gas and the truck cranked up and they headed out in the advance. And at Mount Carmel, just past the cemetery, heading towards Peason, a half-track turned over in the small creek located there and 3 crewmen were killed in that accident.

There were country stores scattered all through the rural areas of the maneuver area and they had to be supplied. In Many, La. there was the Many Nehi Bottling Company where soda pop of many flavors was bottled. My grandfather had a country store for many years at Peason and sold cases and cases of Nehi drinks to the soldiers.

Army trucks would pull up and the soldiers would jump out with only minutes to try and get an RC Cola or Nehi drink and some snacks. They were always in a rush, with sergeants shouting “hurry up, hurry up “! They were in such a hurry that Granddaddy had a wash tub at the end of his counter and the soldiers would throw their money into the tub and would quickly load onto the trucks and they would move out fast. And Granddaddy always said none of the soldiers ever beat him or owed him money for anything they had gotten.
And at Peason the roads were filled with deep ruts that were level full of water. Livestock could not even cross the road and owners of stock could not move their animals from one field to the other across the road.

My Dad was asked by Mr. Sam McCollough to help him move a large flock of sheep from one field to the other. The road was so bad that the sheep would try and cross but would get stuck and would flounder in the deep ruts and mud. My Dad got on his horse and got across the road and he would rope one sheep at a time and would drag them through the mud into the field. While doing this it came a thunder and lightning storm.

Soldiers were marching in the ditches and near the fencerows as they advanced toward Mount Camel and the battles being fought there. While moving the sheep, lightning stuck the barbed wire fence near my Dad. He saw a soldier slip in the mud and grab the fence.

The lightning struck the fence and the soldier was killed. Pine Grove Baptist Church and churches throughout had to cancel services due to the damaged roads until the maneuvers ended. Church folks would conduct cottage prayer meetings at the homes of their neighbors that were easiest to get to.

Schools throughout the area had to have classes cancelled for the month of September 1941. Both students and teachers could not get to the schools due to the damage to the roads and the lack of dependable buses and automobiles.

At Pisgah High School in Ward 2 of Sabine Parish the army camped on the school grounds and around the school campus as they prepared to attack northward. And any vehicle on the roads was subject to being “flour bombed” by low flying aircraft. At the very start of the maneuvers Plainview School was able to conduct classes for a week.

My Grandfather, Ora Robertson, drove a poor ragged bus to Plainview School. Gene Alford, a youngster riding this bus, told me one day dive bombers attacked the bus in a big sand bed near the school. All the kids had to get off the bus and take cover during this “air raid”. Exciting for the kids but they then had to push and get the bus out of that sand bed !
The U.S. Army continued to conduct maneuvers all the way through 1944. In between the phases of the maneuvers army engineers would work on the roads and bridges. They hauled dirt, rock, and gravel and also installed new culverts and repaired bridges. But with the heavy traffic flow of military vehicles the roads were soon demolished. And during the 1944 maneuvers a hard winter storm hit this area with snow and ice building up on the trees, breaking them down and blocking roads everywhere in the area.

Military equipment of all types froze and were damaged. Then, when the thaw set in, the roads were turned into swamps. Infantry units had to bog through deep mud as they advanced along the roads. But the army overcame these obstacles of the weather and the mud and this training helped the army to be prepared for every type of situation like this on the many battlefields throughout the world where they would be fighting.

The army learned the art of moving large convoys of military vehicles in all types of weather and terrain here in Louisiana. Yes, even the roads and bad weather here in Louisiana helped to train the most powerful army in the world during World War II. Yes, Louisiana was the training ground that led our armies to victory in World War II.

Bogged down M3 light tank of the 68th Armored Regiment during the Louisiana Maneuvers. (Robertson Collection)
Bogged down M3 light tank of the 68th Armored Regiment during the Louisiana Maneuvers. (Robertson Collection)
Overturned M3 light tank that overturned after it slid off the muddy roadway. (Robertson Collection)
Overturned M3 light tank that overturned after it slid off the muddy roadway. (Robertson Collection)
Delivery truck from the Many Nehi Bottling Company stuck in the mud while trying to deliver cold drinks to the rural stores in the Mount Carmel and Peason areas. Readers may be able to identify the two men in the picture who worked for Nehi. (Robertson Collection)
Delivery truck from the Many Nehi Bottling Company stuck in the mud while trying to deliver cold drinks to the rural stores in the Mount Carmel and Peason areas. Readers may be able to identify the two men in the picture who worked for Nehi. (Robertson Collection)
Bridge on Lockwood Creek near Many, La. collapsed as tanks were crossing it. No crewmen were injured in this accident. (Robertson Collection)
Bridge on Lockwood Creek near Many, La. collapsed as tanks were crossing it. No crewmen were injured in this accident. (Robertson Collection)
Tanks crossing and fording Kib Bayou/Kisatchie Bayou in the Peason Community during the maneuvers. This site is located on La. Hwy. 118 and is still visible. (Robertson Collection)
Tanks crossing and fording Kib Bayou/Kisatchie Bayou in the Peason Community during the maneuvers. This site is located on La. Hwy. 118 and is still visible. (Robertson Collection)
Blue Army troops crossing at the Goodson Creek Bridge on present day La. Hwy. 118 as they advanced toward Mount Carmel. (Robertson Collection)
Blue Army troops crossing at the Goodson Creek Bridge on present day La. Hwy. 118 as they advanced toward Mount Carmel. (Robertson Collection)
2nd Armored Division tanks crossing the Sabine River west of Converse, La. on a pontoon bridge. (Robertson Collection)
2nd Armored Division tanks crossing the Sabine River west of Converse, La. on a pontoon bridge. (Robertson Collection)
Red Army bombers dropping flour bombs on Blue Army troops and Addison's Store during the Battle of Mount Carmel. Note the traffic congestion on the roadway. (Robertson Collection)
Red Army bombers dropping flour bombs on Blue Army troops and Addison’s Store during the Battle of Mount Carmel. Note the traffic congestion on the roadway. (Robertson Collection)
Painting named "Muddy Maneuvers" that is displayed at Fort Polk depicting a cavalry mount pulling a stuck army truck out of the ditch during the maneuvers. (Ft. Polk Cultural Resources)
Painting named “Muddy Maneuvers” that is displayed at Fort Polk depicting a cavalry mount pulling a stuck army truck out of the ditch during the maneuvers. (Ft. Polk Cultural Resources)

Original article on SFU website

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A Desperate Affray: Hand-to-hand duel in early Zwolle, Louisiana

the_times_fri__jun_11__1948_

From The Shreveport Times, 1898

“A DESPERATE AFFRAY”
A Hand-to-Hand Duel in the Streets of Zwolle

—–

A Nervy Officer Kills his Assaillant After Being Mortally Wounded

—–
“From passengers who reached this city yesterday morning from Zwolle on the K. C. S. road, 62 miles south of this city. comes the particulars of the most desperate affray which occurred in that town Saturday afternoon between 5 and 6.

“A man by the name of Nick Suppicado who lived not far from Zwolle, a Mexican of a quarrelsome disposition, raised a disturbance in Zwolle.

“Johnnie McComic, the town marshal, attempted to arrest Nick. He re-sisted the officer, pulling a pistol at close range and fired on the constable, shooting him in the stomach.

“After falling mortally wounded, Mr. McComic pulled his pistol and lying on the ground, fired three shots into his assailant, one penetrating his heart and the other two his body, killing him instantly.

“Mr. McComic was conscious until 3 o’clock Sunday morning and died at 10 o’clock that morning. Mr. McComic married a Miss Bessie Parrott and leaves a most beautiful young wife and two small children to mourn his untimely death.”

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Zwolle’s Dairy Queen stands where once was located quite a regal hotel

arlington-hotel005

In Zwolle, Louisiana on today’s U. S. 171 bypass, there is a Dairy Queen Restaurant.  Where this Dairy Queen stands once stood a grand-ish hotel for the day and the place… The Arlington Hotel was built in 1910 and owned by the Gaul family of Zwolle.

The Arlington Hotel was listed at the time as “the leading hostelry (of the area), conducted by Mrs. Gaul. It is most pleasantly located, affords fine accommodations and is very popular with the traveling public.”

arlington-hotel003-2 arlington1 arlington2

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Louisiana Long Leaf Lumber Company in Fisher, Louisiana

fisher-mill-copyWhat became the Village of Fisher, Louisiana was built between 1899 and 1901 by the Louisiana Long Leaf Lumber Company, or 4L, as it was also known.  Fisher remained a company-owned sawmill town until it was sold to Boise Cascade Corporation in 1966.

Fisher is located in Central Sabine Parish, between the Village of Florien and Town of Many, on Hwy. 171.  This panorama photograph was taken of the 4L mill in the early 1900s.  The subsequent photos here are closeups of sections of the larger pano photograph.

fishermill4 fishermill3 fishermill2 fishermill1

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

From 1930: Converse bank funds taken by three bandits

From The Greenwood, Mississippi Commonwealth
From The Greenwood, Mississippi Commonwealth

The following article was carried by the Associated Press on Oct. 9, 1930.

CONVERSE BANK FUNDS TAKEN BY THREE BANDITS

Hold Up Men Armed With Pistols Make Way with $3,000 Cash

—–

Two men arrested near Myrick’s Ferry on the Sabine River ten miles west of here after an exchange a shots with their captors were identified as the robbers of the Bank of Converse who a little earlier stole between $2,500 and $3,000. The captives at first refused to give their names.

The men were overtaken by E. N. Nolan of Benson and Goodwin Harris, of Mansfield, members of a sheriff’s posse tailing the bandits. They were identified by R. D. Darnell, cashier of the bank, and C. W. Worsham, a pedestrian who saw the robbers flee.

The money had not been recovered.

—-

Converse, La, (A) — Three bandits today robbed the bank of Converse of Between $2,500 and $3,000 in cash, after having forced Cashier R. D. Darnell, and his wife, into the bank’s vault.

There were no customers in the bank at the time of the robbery. The cashier and his wife were taken by surprise when confronted by the holdup men, armed with pistols. They were in the vault only a short time as the bandits tailed in their efforts to lock the combination.

After getting all the money in sight. the bandits left in an automobile.

Converse is in Sabina Parish 18 miles south a Mansfield.

Sheriff Williams of DeSoto Parish, it Mansfield, Was immediately notified and almost succeeded in heading off the at Benson but later the was lost as that hold up car headed west for the Sabine river.

Cashier Darnell said the men apparently entered the front door of the bank but were at the cashier’s windows before he was aware of their presence as he was busy on an adding machine. His wife was reading a newspaper in the office.

While one of the bandits covered them, the other slipped around to the door and entered the cashier’s office. They compelled the cashier to take all the money in the safe and drop it in a bag they carried. Only asmall amount of silver was overlooked.

During the robbery, Mrs. Darnell fainted but the bandits made Darnell drag the limp form of the woman into the vault and they closed the door but tripped the combination and it did not lock. Darnell within a few moments had pried the door open and took his wife into the open air where she was quickly revived.

Meanwhile the bandits left by the front door, firing one shot as they left. This alarmed several bystanders on the street. The bystanders helped Darnell get the vault door open.

The loss is covered by insurance.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Efforts to save Hodges Gardens State Park from closure continue

Locations of signees of "Save Hodges Gardens" petiton, up through May 1, 2017
Locations of signees of “Save Hodges Gardens” petiton, up through May 1, 2017

To date, 2,758 people have added their names to a petition created by All Things Sabine which aims to show support for Hodges Gardens State Park.  Our goal is plain and simple:  to convince the State of Louisiana that Hodges Gardens is worth keeping open and that the State should fund the park as is needed to keep it open.

The petition is still active and interested persons are encouraged to add their names.  Remember, strength often comes from numbers, so the more signatures, the better.  To sign the petition, follow this link:

Keep Hodges Gardens State Park open

A bit of abbreviated backstory on Hodges Gardens State Park:  Hodges Gardens was created in the 1950s by area businessman A. J. Hodges (an oilman, if you will) and his wife, Nona Triggs Hodges (an all-around lover of nature and avid horticulturist), as a way of giving back to their community and of preserving almost 5,000 thousand acres of land, and to create a unique arboretum attraction.

Basically, and I think I am safe to say this, the Hodges’ were true conservationists before the dawning of the age of conservation.  They wanted this land protected, beautiful and available for the enjoyment of the public, and they clearly wanted this for their time and for the future long after they were gone.

The Hodges’ set up a legal Foundation under which the land would be operated and protected, even after their deaths.  I don’t really know much about the Foundation or how it works or any of the legalities of it, but as I understand, the Foundation members are descendants of the Hodges… children, grandchildren, etc.

Ten years ago, the Foundation entered into a cooperative agreement with the State of Louisiana whereby the State was granted use of the prime 770 acres of the 4,800-acre Hodges Gardens property.  By prime acreage, I am referring to the gardens themselves, the 225-acre man-made lake which is in the center of the property, the hiking trails, some of the equestrian trails, and the land used for cabins, camping, and RV sites.

Through this agreement, the State would operate this acreage as Hodges Gardens State Park and would maintain the grounds.

By the time this agreement was inked between the Hodges Foundation and the State, Hodges Gardens itself had become a bit of a wreck, in part due to storm and wind damage from two huge hurricanes which ascended this way from the Gulf (Rita in ’05 and Ike in ’07) and in part because of neglect of maintenance of the grounds.

When the State took over the park, hundreds of thousands of dollars were initially invested to bring the grounds back up to par.  Hodges Gardens did not reach the magnificence of its prime times, in the 1960s and 70s, but I think it’s fair to say that most people realized that it would be difficult to ever achieve what the Hodges’ had again without some miraculous and tremendous source of funding.

What Hodges Gardens did become under the State, however, was a very nice park different from other state parks in that it was an arboretum featuring flora of all kinds.  It had unique beauty, features and a unique feel and appeal to the public… locals and visitors alike.

Eventually, the State repaired deteriorated roads inside the park, maintained the grounds nicely, fixed up the cabins, added some cabins, added railings for safety around the rock features, removed an old group cabin which had fallen into disrepair and added in its place a new $300,000 “state-of-the-art” (if you will) group cabin at which groups of individuals can stay for various purposes (youth organizations, church groups, wedding groups, private parties, etc).  In all, the State invested millions into Hodges Gardens over the past 10 years.

Supplementing the State’s investment, a private non-profit group named “Friends of Hodges Gardens” has through the years collected donations to fund various projects at Hodges.  These projects included but were hardly limited to funding needed for improvements themselves, such as repairs on water fountains and other water features thereby going a long way in making the park beautiful and unique… not to mention the single best place to take portrait photographs in Sabine Parish and beyond (I have on occasion met photographers from Lake Charles, Vernon Parish, DeSoto Parish, Sabine County, and Newton County, even as far as Orange, Texas to the south and Longview, Texas to the north who chose Hodges as a setting for their portrait photographs including dance groups, high school senior pictures, and bridal photographs). Furthermore, Friends of Hodges has secured much needed volunteer help, from volunteers offering a hodge podge of miscellaneous services such as planting and weeding and general beautification to volunteers who are professionals in various fields like irrigation, plumbing and construction.

The jeopardy of Hodges Gardens today is two-fold.

First, the State of Louisiana is suffering a budget deficit and for whatever reasons, several parks are being considered dispensable by the State in the midst of these financial strains.  Hodges Gardens is one of these parks.

Second, the property of Hodges Gardens remains under private ownership… as explained, the Hodges Foundation owns the land and the State operates it as a park.  Complicating things for Hodges Gardens at this time is that the Hodges Foundation earlier this year initiated a process of apparently attempting to reclaim the property, or rather kicking the State out (that is the best way I can describe it) and attempting to take back full rights to the property.  The Foundation’s legal argument behind their quest to take the property back is that it is their contention that the State is in breach of its contract with the Foundation in that Hodges Gardens is not sufficently funded by the State, meaning it is their belief that the State does not intend to fully fund the needed maintenance to keep the park in the condition in which the State received the Gardens’ property.

That contention by the Foundation, however, is disputed not so much by the State, which has remained a bit mum on the legalities surrounding the Gardens, but by members of Friends of Hodges Gardens as well as at least one legal expert, Sabine District Attorney Don Burkett.  In a recent public forum regarding Hodges Gardens, Burkett expressed his conviction that the State was in fact not out of compliance with the contract between it and the Hodges Foundation.  Burkett explained that he was not speaking in any official capacity, but rather as a supporter of Hodges Gardens offering his legal opinion.

“I read the contract and it is my considered opinion that we are not in default,” Burkett said.  “I don’t care what they say, we are not in default.  Now if they appropriate no money and things start going south real fast after July 1, yes, maybe we’ll be in default at some point.  But as we sit here today, we are not in default.”

Also, Friends of Hodges’ President Chris Nolen asserted that the Gardens’ property has been and continues to be in better condition now than it was when the agreement between the State and the Foundation was reached.  That particular condition, under which the State accepted the Gardens 10 years ago, seems to be a critical point of the agreement between the Foundation and the State.

So let’s say that the property is in equal or better condition now than it was in 2007 when the State took over the Gardens… (and I very much believe it is in at the very minimum slightly better condition now than it was 10 years ago), then the State is in fact holding up to its end of the agreement.

However, and this is paramount to Hodges’ future, the State must allocate funding needed to maintain the Hodges Gardens for the 2017-18 fiscal year, which begins July 1.  State legislators are currently in Legislative Session and this is where our petition comes in.

The petition, for us, was just another means to show State officials that there is public support for Hodges Gardens.  There have been letter-writing campaigns, a well-attended public meeting, and other efforts to convince the State to allocate funding for Hodges and ultimately save the Gardens.  Our petition is just another means of trying to show support for Hodges Gardens.

The way I see it, if the State doesn’t fund Hodges, then the property does go back to the Hodges Foundation.  Unless the Hodges Foundation intends on operating the property as a park, and there is absolutely no indication that they do or do not plan on this, this could spell the end for Hodges Gardens forever.

A couple of weeks ago, I sent the results of our petition to area State Legislators as well as to the Office of Governor John Bel Edwards and the Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser (bearing in mind that all State Parks are operated under the Office of the Lieutenant Governor). At that time, the petition had a few more than 2,500 electronic signatures.

I explained to the State officials to whom I forwarded the petition results  that All Things Sabine is a not-for-profit three-year-old Facebook community and website which posts photos and stories and videos of all sorts related to our geographic area along the Sabine River and beyond.
I further explained that I had observed through All Things Sabine a huge amount of interest on Hodges Gardens State Park particularly related to strong desires that the State fund the park this coming fiscal year in order to keep it open and operating as a public park
“Because of this, and because of my own passion for Hodges Gardens,” I wrote, “My husband and I created a petition to gather signatures of some supporters of Hodges Gardens who want Hodges to remain open for us all to continue to enjoy.  The petition has been posted for a little less than three weeks now.”

My letter to legislators and the Governor and Lt. Governor stated, in part, “This petition is but just one single effort… grass roots through and through… and by no means is a complete or exhaustive show of support for Hodges Gardens.  I believe this petition shows a wide variety of support for Hodges, but doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the support that exists for this gem of a park in West Central Louisiana.

“The petition remains posted, and as I write this new signatures are still being added each day.”

Gov. Edwards responded to this in a very brief statement, stating that correspondence related to State Parks should be directed to the Office of the Lt. Governor.

Lt. Governor Nungesser responded with the following letter, explaining where his office currently stands on Hodges Gardens:

“Thank you for taking time to write to me regarding Hodges Garden State Park.  First and foremost, I want you to know that we are looking at all of our options to keep this valuable asset in the state park system open.  It has never been my intent to defund or close this facility; however; on March 12, 2017, my office was served a letter from the Hodges Gardens Foundation requesting that the property be given back to its original owners.
“My legal team is currently working with the Commissioner of Administration as well as the Attorney General’s Office to review all options.
“Because of the years of maintenance that has been deferred and the current budget situation, it may be an uphill battle.  In addition, I am currently looking for an outside donor(s) to possibly raise enough money to fund some of the deferred maintenance and repairs from the past few years.
“If we were able to raise a substantial amount of money as an initial amount to start that process, we may have a leg to stand on.  We are looking at all options and I am always open to any recommendations that anyone may have to help with this matter.

“The Office of State Parks is looking at a potential $6 Million cut, which would be devastating to not only Hodges Gardens but to other state parks across our state.  It’s an additional cut that we cannot sustain. The Lieutenant Governor’s budget has been cut 50% over the last 10 years and we continue to struggle with deferred maintenance in many locations.

“I realize the beauty and importance of this facility and the hard work that the volunteer organization has put into this facility over the last 10 years.  Rest assure, I will make every effort that I can and look at all options before I turn this facility back over to the foundation as they have requested.”

This is all of the information I have at this time.  Based on what the Lt. Governor said, the situation certainly looks worrisome for Hodges Gardens, but not yet of a entirely dooming nature in that he offered possible solutions to the problem involving corporate investment into Hodges Gardens.  I certainly believe there are corporations, groups, even individuals who would be interested in contributing to saving Hodges Gardens and interested in the personal satisfaction and/or positive exposure they would receive from such noble investments (not to mention tax incentives, I suppose).  Maybe this can happen.

Of course, the State and the Foundation would have to be committed to keeping Hodges Gardens open.  Otherwise, there would be understandable hesitation from anyone to financially invest in Hodges Gardens if there is any real fear that the park could still close even after an influx of outside investment.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Toledo Queen and Toledo Princess once graced the fresh, new waters of Toledo Bend Lake

The following text is part of an article published in The Longview News-Journal on Jan. 1, 1967, and gives some details on two excursion boats that some All Things Sabine readers had asked about:  The Toledo Queen and the Toledo Princess.  Both were operated by Cliff Ammons, who became known as “the father of Toledo Bend” as it was he who introduced legislation as a State Representative to create Toledo Bend, and he was one of the main individuals behind the creation of the lake.  Most knew Ammons operated the boats, but this article provides some interesting on who was behind making the boats, which was a Florien entrepreneur and enterprising, talented jack of many trades, Johnnie Jordan of Florien.  As a young man, Jordan’s son, Rodney, helped his father build houseboats and today runs the business as Jordan Marine, still building some of the finest houseboats you can find anywhere around.

longview_news_journal_sun__jan_1__1967_

C. R. (Cliff) Ammon   s of Many is a man of numerous endeavors. Not only is he president of the Many Chamber of Commerce this year and vocational agriculture teacher in Many High School, but also he deals in real estate, devotes many hours to promoting development on Lake Toledo, and takes time out to build camp cabins in his Sportsman’s Paradise Subdivision.

Rut the one enterprise of Ammons’ which has perhaps fascinated and captivated the largest numbers of people all up and down the Louisiana and Texas sides of the Sabine River and Toledo Bend Reservoir is his proof that the river is navigable.

This photo and caption was from The Shreveport Times, in Summer 1967
This photo and caption was from The Shreveport Times, in Summer 1967

longview_news_journal_mon__jan_1__1968_15

Ammons owns two riverboats, the Toledo Queen and a “sister” ship, the Toledo Princess. t h e latter a paddle wheeler. Both now are plying the Sabine River waters and making 10 – mile excursion trips, showing guests aboard some sights in the river, not seen since steamboats plied the winding waterway just after the turn of the century.

In mid-November, many river authority and Toledo Bend project officials, plus civic leaders from a wide area in Texas and Louisiana, joined the initial cruise of the Queen down the Sabine. And around Thanksgiving, the Toledo Princess joined the “river fleet.”

A steary stream of passengers can be found at Pendleton Bridge, on weekends and holidays when the weather is good, to take the cruises. Up to 60 people can board each of the two vessels.

Oddly enough, both the Toledo Queen and the Toledo Princess were built in the area in which they were launched. They are the construction of Johnnie L. Jordan, owner and manager of Jordan Iron Works Inc., near Florien, La., a few miles from Many.

longview_news_journal_sun__jan_1__1967_2

Jordan got into the boat-building business when he made a steel pontoon cylinder for a custom trip up in Shreveport several years back. In fact, his firm was originally established as an ornamental iron-works outfit solely, but more arid more his business is boat-building, and he moved headquarters from Shreveport to Florien to be nearer Toledo Bend.

It was Ammons’ idea to make the Toledo Princess a paddle wheeler on the style of the old time water-wheel riverboat.  He had tractor wheels and chassis hauled out to Jordan and the two men put their heads together and came up with the answer to “how” it could be done.

longview_news_journal_sun__jan_1__1967_1

Jordan mounted the tractor on specially-constructed framework at the back of the riverboat, inserted steel spokes to support the wooden paddles made of cypress, and eventually the Princess was launched.

Ammons’ friend Jordan also builds boats other than excursion vessels. In fact, he has built them with full cabins, controls, sleeping quarters and in prices ranging from $7,500 to $12,000. They tan be found plying waters around Jackson, Miss., Dearborn Lake near Farmerville, La., the Arkansas River, and Lake 0′ The Pines in Texas.

Jordan Marine, owned and operated by Rodney Jordan, continues to build fine houseboats today.
Jordan Marine, owned and operated by Rodney Jordan, continues to build fine houseboats today.

jordan2 jordan3

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Where there were bandits, perhaps there is gold

the_times_sun__jun_20__1965_

In June 1965, The Shreveport Times featured an articled titled, “Where the gold is… maybe.”

Among the geographic regions mentioned in the article was Western Louisiana, where it has been long believed that nineteenth century bandit John Murrell and his gang of thieves buried their loot… possibly in today Sabine and/ or Vernon parishes. Also mentioned was the “lost mine of Wyndham Creek” in Beauregard Parish, which also hugs the Louisiana/Texas border along the Sabine River.

The article, written by Times reporter Norman Richardson (a superb journalist and feature writer of his day), follows.

If Jean Lafitte had dug as many holes and buried as much gold as legend says he did, the soil of the Bayou State would contain little else.

Pirates like Lafitte and Pierre Rameau and land bandit John Murrell once called Louisiana home and, carrying on an age-old tradition, no doubt hid much loot that lies undiscovered to this day.

All through the state’s history fabulous fortunes vanished almost overnight, never to be heard from again. Even the wealthy Spanish who ruled the state for almost a century were well known for their habit of concealing silver and jewelry and gold and almost everything else of value.

When the Civil War came, the planters latched on to the idea and began burying their valuables so the Yankees wouldn’t get anything. A lot of these people apparently died in the war and others left their homes and simply never returned, so who can say what lies under the spots where these homes once stood and how much it is worth.

the_times_sun__jun_20__1965_1

Even the ordinary people were forced into the act of burying things since banks catered only to the wealthy as little as 150 years ago. Take all this, plus the occasional finding of an old map allegedly pointing out treasure spots or parts of trinkets and treasures, and you have proof enough—at least for the treasure hunters—that Louisiana is a paradise for fortune seekers.

Take the men, for example, who excavated a dry bed of the Calcasieu River back in 1929 and came up with the richest strike in Louisiana history… 175,000 in gold coins buried just a few yards from the shoreline possibly by some of Lafitte’s cronies or maybe the man himself.

Then, there is the Baton Rouge find many years back. 21 Spanish gold doubloons that workers found in a load of gravel that came from Grand Isle.  Or the more recent discovery, $1,000 in gold coins found when a Ruston man, John Skinner, shattered the blade of his plow on on old iron chest.

And if that’s not enough to keep treasure hunters awake all night, try this: Where did Col. Norman Frisby, the famed baron of Tensas Parish, bury his wagonload of gold that everyone knew he had. The violent-tempered Frisby had his dreams of an empire along a 52-mile front of the Tensas River interrupted by the Civil War and when he heard the roar of approaching Yankee cannons he one day loaded his valuables onto a wagon. Accompanied by two husky slaves, so the tale goes, he drove into the forest near his home. He returned to the home later without the valuables and legend says he shot the two slaves so they couldn’t tell. He later died is a knife fight with nephews and carried his secret to the grave.

None of his gold has ever been found, but the violent colonel’s relatives and descendants haven’t given up hope nor have the treasure hunters. For years. the Texas branch of the family has been trying to locate Norman Frisby’s Bible, which is said to contain many records and may hold the key to Frisby’s buried treasure.

The pirate Jean Lafitte, last of the great buccaneers, is suspected of having buried far greater treasures than Frisby’s. Lafitte’s corsairs patroled the waters of the Gulf of Mexico looting mer-chant ships and smuggling their loot into New Orleans.

Here Jean and his brother, Pierre, sold it freely to store owners, many of whom were their friends. He made his headquarters at Grand Isle off the Gulf Coast and maintained dozens of other hiding places on other islands and along the Mississippi bluffs as far north as Baton Rouge. The buccaneer lived a life apart from his men.

On Grand Isle Lafitte constructed a large house of brick coated on the outside with a mixture of pulverized oyster shells and plaster.

In keeping with his noble attitude, Caine dressed in rich costumes and enjoyed the finest of wines and liquors in his expensive surroundings. Although Lafitte always maintained that he never ceased to be a good citizen, the threat of federal raids was always near during Lafitte’s latter years at Barataria and so the pirates hid much of their loot.

That’s why Lafitte’s islands and hiding spots and former headquarters are believed to be the best localities for treasure hunters. In addition to Grand Isle, Lafitte sometimes landed at Coca Island and is said to have hidden $1 million in gold on Kelso’s Island and on the Mississippi bluff.

No one knows for sure how much of Lafitte’s loot is left for treasure hunters but there are cases on record to prove that the story of Jean Lafitte’s fabulous gold is a little bit more than legend.

For instance there is the story of John Patorno. Disregarding the methods of most treasure hunters, Patorno in 1935 invented a radio device which responded to nonmagnetic metals. Then he hired out for his services and the makeshift semblance of a Geiger counter for $25 a day.

A few days later accompanied by a Mississippi ferry boat captain Patorno was on his way to Coca Island to look for Lafitte’s loot. He carried with him a map that supposedly pinpointed the pirate hoard.

For three days the men searched the island and just when they were giving up hope his radio device suddenly began to buzz. The men got out their shovels and began to dig but had to stop their search because of seeping water and sandy soil.

His treasure hunt, however, paid off later in an unexpected locale. He found $1,300 in two caskets just across the river from New Orleans.

Other men even today are searching North Louisiana for the treasure of John Murrell, the famed bandit of the Natchez Trace who made his debut in the wide open country of the Free State of Sabine, the strip of land separating the Spanish and United States territories along the Sabine River.

It was a buffer zone with no law and no government and no punishment and drew some of the worst outlaws in American history.

Murrell ranged far and wide, brazenly robbing travelers while at the same time urging people to repent their sins and “return to God.”

He left behind him hidden wealth that still excites the imaginations of treasure hunters.

In 1930, for example, Forest Normand. an Avoyelles Parish farmer, plowed up a pot of coins containing 3,000 pieces of Spanish silver with dates ranging from 1763 to 1805.

In 1939, perhaps the largest all-out method was to get Murrell’s loot by a farmer named Reber Dove who had discovered what he believed to be the treasure chest with steel probes, only to feel it sink deeper and deeper into the treacherous quicksand.

Special equipment was purchased but whether the treasure was found only Dove and a few other men know, for after that reports of further progress mysteriously stopped. Treasure hunters do not like to publicize their findings, and are a close-mouthed lot.

But there are exceptions to this rule, like George C. Maher Jr. of South Louisiana. who freely admits to having found $200,000 worth of gold, silver and jewelry over a period of 30 years. Maher and his father accomplished this with aid of an invention they called a ground radio, a device which operates via the variable induction of a magnetic field.

Near Abbeville in 1925, a Negro boy who was said to have been hypnotized by a man, pointed out a cache of silver.  Two years earlier another $800 in silver was found on Jefferson Island.

The second largest cache in Louisiana history, if the claims are true, included $65,000 on the outskirts of the little promising town of Gretna.

There are many other promising treasure sites in Louisiana. Even metropolitan New Orleans boasts its strikes. A charcoal peddler who lived there 50 years ago found a box of 1,500 doubloons dating back to Lafitte’s time.

And then there’s the fabulous “lost mine of Wyndham Creek” lying in Beauregard Parish which has not yet been found.

At Linceum lies gold, allegedly buried by a group of men who were surprised by the Indians and to hasten their flight they hid the gold. Before the end of their journey they fought among them-selves and killed each other, leaving no survivors to return for their riches.

Several years ago a man cutting down trees near Opelousas turned up 1,485 Spanish gold pieces.

A planter living near Breaux Bridge was murdered by his slaves who escaped with his gold just before the Civil War. After they were captured and shot, it was discovered that one sack of gold was missing. It has never been recovered.

What may yet turn out to be the most valuable find, however, is the treasure hastily buried by plantation owners during the Civil War. There is the fabulous Charles Duralde and his undiscov-ered wealth.  And the plantation of the Marquis Vincent de Ternant with all of its secrets and the wealthy Hubbardvilie planter who hid his money in silver plates outside of town.

Duralde’s fortune was as fantastic as his showmanship. Shortly before the Civil War, two of his daughters became brides in a double ceremony. Adding a fairy tale touch to the festivities Duralde startled the society of his day. From China he imported a cargo of spiders and freed them in his plantation near St. Martinsville in order that they might spin webs among the branches. Then the weird patterns were sprayed with silver and gold dust by slaves to serve as the wedding aisle.

Later as he lay dying during the war, he hinted that his fortune was buried nearby, but death cut short his revelations and the treasure to this day lies undiscovered.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail